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In the Year of Rain: Review of Work to Benefit Sea Lamprey

2012 was a difficult year for MulkearLIFE’s work with Sea Lamprey. The fine weather in March, April and May raised expectations that an exceptional summer was on the cards. Water temperatures in May 2012 reached their peak with an average daily temperature of 18.5 degree Celsius recorded on the 27th May 2012. The first sea lamprey had been noted at Annacotty on the 15th May. The warm water temperatures had signalled the start of sea lamprey spawning within the Mulkear system.

On their return spawning migration, below Annacotty weir (Image: Glen Wightman)

Unfortunately, the Project’s high hopes for a fine summer were misplaced. The week after water temperatures had reached their peak they plummeted when the weather broke on the 1st June 2012. What fallowed thereafter was a prolonged period of unsettled weather which lasted throughout most of the Summer months (June / July / August). The heavy rain caused flood conditions for most of this period. This made monitoring of sea lamprey passage extremely challenging. However, the MulkearLIFE Team, like the sea lamprey themselves, rose to the challenge and significant monitoring results were achieved during the year.

Discoloured flood water, making observational monitoring difficult (Image: RÓC)

The monitoring of sea lamprey passage at Annacotty and Ballyclogh weirs began in late May with the arrival of sea lamprey in the catchment. Early morning monitoring sessions (05:00 hrs to 09:00hrs) were undertaken to observe sea lamprey ascending Annacotty Weir using lamprey passes specifically designed and installed by MulkearLIFE in 2011. A minimum of 34 sea lamprey were documented successfully passing Annacotty weir during two early morning sessions in late May. This meant successful passage had been achieved over the first man-made barrier to their migration on the Lower Mulkear River, opening up the possibility of almost 200km of additional habitat throughout the catchment.

Two sea lamprey ascend Annacotty weir (Image: Ruairí Ó Conchúir)

With the Project Team satisfied with the results at Annacotty weir, attention quickly turned upstream to Ballyclogh weir, the next significant barrier on Lower Mulkear River. Two early morning monitoring sessions documented a minimum of 21 sea lamprey passing the barrier. Unfortunately, on the 1st June 2012 it started to rain with a vengeance leading to extreme flooding.

Ballyclogh Weir, exceptional flood conditions, June 2012 (Image: Glen Wightman)

For the remainder of the migration period the water was too high and coloured to carryout observational work at the weirs and it is unknown if lamprey were able to pass the weirs. No to be outdone by the weather and the flooding, observational work for redds commenced on the tributary rivers, which are predominately spate rivers.

Sea Lamprey redd, Annagh River, 25th June 2012 (Image: Glen Wightman)

This survey work (which involved counting of actual sea lamprey redds and observational work in rivers) were carried out between spates. The work documented a total of 55 redds, 10 live sea lamprey and 2 carcasses in the Newport, Annagh, Dead and Bilboa Rivers in the period from 25th June to 3rd August 2012.

Sea Lamprey redd, Annagh River, 25th June 2012 (Image: Glen Wightman)

This was a significant human resource commitment by MulkearLIFE. The documentation of sea lamprey spawning in tributaries throughout the catchment represents a major project milestone for MulkearLIFE, Inland Fisheries Ireland and our project partners.

Sea Lamprey redd, Dead River, 3rd August 2012 (Image: Glen Wightman)

Other highlights of MulkearLIFE’s work to benefit Sea Lamprey during 2012, included ongoing networking and cooperation with colleagues in Ireland, the UK, France, Canada and the USA. Most recently it has included new opportunities for cooperation with partners involved in the Atlantic Aquatic Resource Conservation (ARRC) project, which held it’s international end-of-project conference in Limerick in November 2012. MulkearLIFE was delighted to host the partners during a field trip to the Mulkear catchment and outline the project’s work with on sea lamprey passage.

Finally, MulkearLIFE was delighted that the project’s work with Sea Lamprey was featured by Michael Viney’s in The Irish Times. Michael Viney has been documenting Irish wildlife in his highly regarded column “Another Life” in The Irish Times since 1977. The article on Sea Lamprey ran with the apt title ‘A jaw-dropping sight, but in the best possible taste’. The article highlighted the importance of the protection of sea lamprey and how MulkearLIFE’s work is helping to restore habitat not only for sea lamprey but for Atlantic Salmon and Otter.

‘A jaw-dropping sight’ – entwined Sea Lamprey (Image: Ruairí Ó Conchúir)

MulkearLIFE, together with our colleagues in Inland Fisheries Ireland, look forward to continuing our work to benefit Sea Lamprey in 2013 – hopefully with a little less rain.

Further information regarding the project’s work with Sea Lamprey may be viewed on this website including extensive video footage in the projects Video Gallery here: Video Gallery and on the project’s YouTube Channel MulkearLIFE YouTube

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Mulkear LIFE, Inland Fisheries Ireland, Ashbourne Business Park, Dock Road, Limerick, Ireland
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